Letter of the Week – Wild Planet, Greatest Hits, The Cars and Emerson, Lake & Palmer

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

Yesterday, I attended an audio event at Audio Connection, in Verona, NJ (where I purchased my stereo).

I played the B-52s, Wild Planet, “Party Out Of Bounds”, on their cost-no-object flagship system.
It was spectacular!  

I played other titles that were also spectacular, such as Sly And The Family Stone’s “Dance To The Music” and The Cars’ “Good Times Roll” (all purchased from your store).

A couple of other pressings were very good, but not as impressive (Cat Stevens’ WHS, for example). And my WHS of ELP’s “Take A Pebble” had a fair amount of sibilance (a song I had not previously played). But overall, a wonderfully musical experience.

Great job unearthing / identifying these gems! (more…)

Oliver Nelson – The Blues and the Abstract Truth

More Oliver Nelson

More The Blues and the Abstract Truth

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Oliver Nelson’s masterpiece debuts at Better Records with at least White Hot Stamper sound on both sides. Side one was so HUGE and Tubey Magical we called it at least White Hot – it’s out of this world. If all you know is the Van Gelder original cutting, you will surely have your mind blown by this Hot Stamper LP.   (more…)

The Doobie Brothers – What Were Once Vices… – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More The Doobie Brothers

More What Were Once Vices…

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This quiet Palm Tree Label pressing is one of the best sounding copies of this album we’ve ever played! We had a massive shootout for this fun album recently and this was the big winner, earning an A+++ grade for the first side and a strong A++ for the second. Drop the needle anywhere on side one; you won’t believe how open, clear and dynamic the sound is. It’s also big, present and spacious with unusually high resolution. No other side one we played came close. Black Water sounds KILLER here! 

We sure don’t find too many copies like this that sound correct from start to finish and play quietly, but this one sure knocked us out. The sound is strong down low with the kind of three-dimensional imaging that bring the music of the Doobs to life in your listening room!

These songs sound every bit as good now as they did thirty plus years ago when they came out. Better, because we can clean their records and play them so much better than we could back then. I’ll be the first to admit that back in the day I was a bit of a snob when it came to bands like this. Too mainstream. Too radio-friendly. Now I realize that the best of this kind of pop rock has stood the test of time very well. One listen and we think you’ll agree: this is good music that belongs in your collection. (more…)

Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else – Classic Records Reviewed

More Cannonball Adderley / More Miles Davis

More Somethin’ Else

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP reviewed.

There are certainly some incredible sounding original pressings of this album out there, but who has the resources it takes to find one? Most of the original Blue Notes we come across these days turn out to have mediocre sound, and many of them have severely damaged inner grooves. Even the mintiest looking copies often turn out to be too noisy for most audiophiles, Blue Note vinyl being what it is.

This is of course why the hacks at Classic Records did so well for themselves [until they went under] hawking remastered versions of classic albums pressed on new, quieter vinyl.

The problem there is that most of their stuff just doesn’t sound all that hot, this album included.

We’ve played it; it’s decent, but any Hot Stamper will show you just how much music you are missing. (more…)

Airto – Fingers – Top End Extension Is Key to the Best Pressings

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Fingers.

The best copies have the highs that are missing from so many of the CTI originals. When you play them against most copies there is an extension to the top end that you won’t hear elsewhere. Since this album is heavy on percussion, that difference is critical. The HARMONICS of the percussion are critically important to the music. When they go missing it’s as if the music seems to slow down, a strange effect but a fairly common one with rhythmically dense arrangements such as these. 

With an extended top end the sound is SWEET, not HARSH. Believe us when we tell you, the last thing you want is a harsh sounding pressing of a Rudy Van Gelder recording. (Not unless you have a dull, dull, deadly dull stereo. Those “Old School” stereos are practically the only way one can tolerate some of his early recordings.)

With so many high frequency transients and such complex arrangements, this is a record that must be mastered (and pressed) with great skill or the result is going to be trouble. RVG, who both recorded and mastered the album, has a penchant for over-cutting records and being heavy handed when it comes to his favorite studio tricks, often to the detriment of instrumental fidelity. When his approach works, the resulting recordings are wonderful. When he gets too carried away with his “sound”, look out.

This is without a doubt the BEST ALBUM the man ever made. On top of that, this copy really has the kind of sound we look for, with an open, fully extended top end that gives all the elements of this complex music room to breathe.

We Love Fingers

Fingers is one of our all time favorite records, a Desert Island disc to be sure. I’ve been playing this album for more than thirty years and it just keeps getting better and better. Truthfully it’s the only Airto record I like. I can’t stand Dafos, and most of the other Airto titles leave me cold. I think a lot of the credit for the brilliance of this album has to go to the Fattoruso brothers, who play keyboards, drums, and take part in the large vocal groupings that sing along with Airto.

At times this record really sounds like what it is: a bunch of guys in a big room beating the hell out of their drums and singing at the the top of their lungs. You gotta give RVG credit for capturing so much of that energy on tape and transferring that energy onto a slab of vinyl. (Of course this assumes that the record in question actually does have the energy of the best copies. It’s also hard to know who or what is to blame when it doesn’t, since even the good stampers sound mediocre most of the time. Bad vinyl, worn out stampers, poor pressing cycle, it could be practically anything.)

Stampers and Promos

There are a couple of stampers we like for both sides, but knowing the numbers is not particularly helpful since there are not all that many stampers to choose from, and the good stampers can sound just plain awful on some copies. Side one is either A1, A2, or A3 and side two is B1, B2, or B3. I have never seen any other stamper numbers for a domestic pressing and I have seen scores of copies of this album over the last twenty plus years. (Quad doesn’t count; those pressings rarely if ever sound good in stereo.)

Some that we’ve put on the site are White Label Promos. I have a number of them and practically every stamper is represented for both sides, so the promo designation has almost no bearing on the quality of the sound. Which is not saying much because it almost never does.

AMG Review

One of the five-star gems [although they actually give it 4 1/2!] that the Brazilian percussionist recorded for CTI was Fingers, which employs Purim on percussion and vocals, David Amaro on guitar, Hugo Fattoruso on keyboards and harmonica, Jorge Fattoruso on drums and Ringo Thielmann on electric bass. Produced by Taylor and recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s famous New Jersey studio, this LP demonstrates just how exciting and creative 1970s fusion could be. When Moreira and his colleagues blend jazz with Brazilian music, rock and funk on such cuts as “Wind Chant,” “Tombo in 7/4” and “Romance of Death,” the results are consistently enriching. Fingers is an album to savor.

Prokofiev / Concerto #2 / Leibowitz / PSO – A Top Performance

More Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Concerto #2 / Leibowitz / PSO

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This is a very nice looking RCA Living Stereo Shaded Dog LP. Some parts sound better than others but the real reason to buy this record is the performance. Frager is amazing here; he won awards for his performance of this piece in international competitions. The record also features Haydn – Sonata No. 35. The record is a member of HP’s TAS list.  

Ray Ellis – Our Man On Broadway – Reviewed in 2015

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More Ray Ellis

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

A DAZZLING TOUR OF THE BROADWAY SHOW SCENE… courtesy of Mickey Crofford’s engineering in NYC’s legendary Webster Hall. If we could only find more vintage pressings with this kind of fidelity and musical invention our job would be a lot easier. We have to play a huge stack of titles to find even one that can do what this copy is doing, and how many of those will be this quiet? One out of a hundred? Two hundred? The whole enterprise boggles the mind. 

Side One

Huge, rich, and Tubey Magical as all get out, the instruments will positively come jumping out of your speakers like few records you have ever heard.

Huge bass and richness helps keep the brass from getting too blary.

Side Two

Even better, the full Three Pluses (our blue ribbon, gold medal, and best in show all wrapped into one). The sound is nothing short of DEMONSTRATION QUALITY.

When the sound is this big and lively and correct, the sound itself becomes half the fun. What a record!

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Guys and Dolls
What Kind Of Fool Am I?
Everything’s Coming Up Roses
The Sweetest Sounds
Till There Was You
I Believe In You

Side Two

I Could Have Danced All Night
Tonight
I’ve Got Your Number
Stranger In Paradise
As Long As He Needs Me
This Is A Great Country

Mendelssohn & Schubert / Symphony No. 4 & Symphony No. 5 – Reviewed in 2014

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

More of the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Symphony No. 4 & Symphony No. 5

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

The strings are rich, with lovely rosiny texture and virtually no tube smear. Played with zest and the recording is every bit as lively. 

The grade on side one could even be better than Two Pluses — we just don’t have enough clean copies to know. Big bass at the end, powerful dynamics too.

Side two was good but nothing like this amazing side one. Too much smear hurts it badly, and the mark is not helping either.

We’re pricing this one for just the one side. Fortunately it’s the complete symphony, one of Mendelssohn’s most famous works.


Artist Biography by Rovi Staff

Mendelssohn was the only musical prodigy of the nineteenth century whose stature could rival that of Mozart. Still, his parents resisted any entrepreneurial impulses and spared young Felix the strange, grueling lifestyle that was the lot of many child prodigies.

Mendelssohn was a true Renaissance man. A talented visual artist, he was a refined connoisseur of literature and philosophy. While Mendelssohn’s name rarely arises in discussions of the nineteenth century vanguard, the intrinsic importance of his music is undeniable. A distinct personality emerges at once in its exceptional formal sophistication, its singular melodic sense, and its colorful, masterful deployment of the instrumental forces at hand.

A true apotheosis of life, Mendelssohn’s music absolutely overflows with energy, ebullience, drama, and invention, as evidenced in his most enduring works: the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826-1842); the Hebrides Overture (1830); the Songs Without Words (1830-1845); the Symphonies No. 3 (1841-1842) and No. 4 (1833); and the Violin Concerto in E minor (1844).

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Symphony No. 4 (Mendelssohn)

Side Two

Symphony No. 5 (Schubert)

Falla / Nights In the Gardens of Spain/ Argenta – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More of the music of Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)

More Nights In the Gardens of Spain/ Argenta

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

DEMO QUALITY SOUND from 1959 on this famous TAS List Super Disc recording. This copy of CS 6046 has an especially good Falla side, with Super Hot Stamper sound and fairly quiet vinyl. The Rodrigo side is no slouch either, earning a grade of A+, although it could certainly use more top end (which was the case last time we did a shootout with this title as I recall). 

The Falla side is amazingly natural sounding; the string tone is Right On The Money, something that cannot be said of most vintage Living Stereos and Mercury pressings.

The overall sound is rich, sweet and tubey magical. The hall is spacious, with superb depth, allowing your speakers to simply disappear and an orchestra to appear in their place.

A bit of tube smear can be heard on the strings, not the least bit unusual on a Golden Age recording such as this one. With a touch less smear this side one would have earned our highest grade. As it is you will have a very hard time finding a better copy.

Side two is lovely and natural as well but a bit dark and slightly veiled. A click or two of treble would work wonders.

The cover is excellent — still in the shrink!

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Rodrigo: Guitar Concerto

Side Two

Falla: Nights in the Gardens of Spain

Carly Simon – Another Passenger – What to Listen For

More Carly Simon

More Another Passenger

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the album. 

There’s one quality in particular that added immensely to our enjoyment of the music — gobs and gobs of Tubey Magic. The copies that were opaque, dry, flat and “modern” sounding — which pretty much describes practically every Heavy Vinyl record we’ve played in the last five years — bored us to tears, not surprisingly in the very same way that most Heavy Vinyl does.

This is 1976, they were still making good records then. You would hardly know it by playing the average pressing of the album, but when you hear one like this, there is no mistaking the richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality.

These are qualities for which good tube equipment is rightly revered. (We no longer use tube equipment ourselves, preferring to be guided by the approach of reproducing the Tubey Magic of the records we play, assuming there is some, unadorned.)

Most pressings get Carly’s voice all wrong — gritty, edgy, hard and strained, but not this one. Carly’s singing on this copy is smoother, sweeter, more immediate and clearly more emotionally compelling than we heard on any other copies in our shootout. We call this Master Tape Sound; you hear it on those rare pressings so far beyond the norm that the music seems to come to life right in front of you, right there in your very own listening room. (more…)